The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has announced today (Monday, July 8) that it is investigating the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) over an alleged failure to comply with environmental law by not adopting its first Environmental Improvement Plan. 

The plan, due to be laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly and published by July 25, 2023, is a legal requirement under the Environment Act 2021.

It was brought before the Northern Ireland Executive by DAERA Minister Andrew Muir earlier this year but has yet to be agreed. 

As part of its investigation the OEP has also issued an Information Notice (IN) to DAERA.

An IN forms part of the OEP’s enforcement process. It describes the alleged failure to comply with environmental law, why the OEP thinks it is serious and requests that the authority, in this case DAERA, provides information relating to the alleged failure.

DAERA environmental plan

The Environmental Improvement Plan is regarded as a ‘blueprint’ of how the government will deliver on its environmental goals to protect and improve Northern Ireland’s environment now and in the future.

OEP chief executive officer (CEO), Natalie Prosser said: “Publishing the EIP is not simply a matter of lawfulness and good governance, although that is important.

“The EIP is essential for transparency over the steps government intends to take that will tackle the environmental challenges facing Northern Ireland, and for driving delivery of those steps.

“It should provide a roadmap to how Northern Ireland’s environment is to be significantly improved.” 

The CEO added: “We know when it comes to the environment that time is not on our side. The recent issues seen at Lough Neagh highlight the need for urgent action to protect the environment.

“The EIP is a vital part of that, and delays to its publication and implementation must be kept to a minimum.” 


The OEP investigation began on June 3, but details have only now been released because of the period of sensitivity in the run-up to the general election in which public authorities, including the OEP, said it was cautious about making any announcements that may affect the election campaign.

DAERA has two months to respond to the Information Notice from its date of issue on June 3. The response will allow the department to set out whether it agrees with the OEP’s view, and whether it agrees or not, to set out any proposed actions to address the issue.

This is the OEP’s third investigation in Northern Ireland. The organisation has received two complaints in relation to the failure to publish an EIP, but this is a self-initiated investigation by the OEP, meaning it is independent of these complaints.

If an investigation finds a failure to comply with environmental law, the OEP said it will aim to resolve any non-compliance through cooperation, dialogue and agreement with public departments and authorities.

However, where a satisfactory outcome cannot be reached through these means, the OEP can use its stricter enforcement powers including, if necessary, through court proceedings.